“I can do it MYSELF!!!”
“I’m not cold!!! I don’t WANT to wear a coat.”
“That shirt is itchy and I don’t like it.”
“No…” and hides behind mom’s legs when asked to say thankyou or goodbye to Grandma.
We’ve all been to these places with our kids. Easy moments? No… not usually… but with a small change in our perspective on what might be going on inside our little ones, these challenging moments can become just a little easier to breathe into and support our kids through.
Where do these words and behaviors come from? Is it stubbornness? Obstinence? A broken part of our kids personalities or a place we’ve failed in our parenting that’s begging to be fixed? Or maybe it’s a sign of more misbehavior to come if we don’t nip it in the bud.
Or maybe it is something else all together.
What if this defiance we are seeing is developmentally appropriate; a place our children go when they want to 1) test a theory, 2) learn about relationships or 3) feel safe, secure and in charge?
Ahhh. Now that’s feeling a little easier to be with as a parent. Nothing’s wrong. Nothing’s broken. These are merely things I can expect from my little scientist as they learn about communication and relationships.
Knowing one’s mind. Having clear, strong opinions and voicing them in a way that others around us can hear them and be enrolled by them instead of backed up or put-off… these are some high level communication skills we’re talking about here. And skills take practice. Is it any wonder our three, four (even fourteen) year olds struggle with communicating their big feelings, especially when they run directly against the desires of their parents?
The next time your child plays out a challenging behavior that seems to come from a “strong-will”, see if you can step into the experience from their point of view. What might he or she be exploring in that moment? Questions like:
Is it safe to go against the grain?
Is it better to blend in or to be myself?
How can I make myself be seen/known/accepted?
Am I powerful?
Is the world a safe and nurturing place?
If a child has the strength to “take-on” their parents with words that defy (yes, even when it’s 38 degrees out and their inner voice says “no coat!”) how much safer will this child be in years to come? How much more likely is this child to have a voice and know how to use it…
When at age 6 she wants to draw her sky with all the colors of the rainbow though all the papers around her are clearly filled with blue skies only.
When at age 7 a teacher insists all the kids run at gym but she is starting to come down with something and doesn’t feel like running.
When at age 10 she wants to be a vegetarian — even though nobody she knows is a vegetarian.
When at age 13 a boy she likes suggests they run and play on the train tracks behind his house.
When at age 14 someone thinks having a smoke together in the basement of a friend’s house would be a fun idea.
When at age 18 all the kids her age are getting piercings.
When at age 20 the guy she just started dating begins to act jealous and controlling.
When at age 25 she considers leaving a job where she receives little credit or joy to start up her dream business.
Model the behaviors you would like to see in your kids. Teach your child how to voice their big thoughts and opinions with respect. Teach your child that “pleases” and “thank you’s” bring with them smiles and happy feelings from the people they are shared with. Model for them how to breathe when they are upset. Help them learn from experience that it is safe for them to “use their words” when they do not like what is going on. Invite them to pause and hit the reset button before acting on the many impulses that want to move their little bodies when they are filled with big feelings.
Be your child’s relationship “training wheels”. Because when you do, you give your child a great, great gift: peace-filled relationships with themselves and others, a gift they will enjoy for the rest of their lives.
If you live in or about the St. Louis area, join other couples supporting one another in parenting from a place of love and respect here. I hope you join with me and other moms here because mommy-hood is just plain better when we are holding hands. Let’s connect on twitter, facebook and pinterest as well. The manual is ours to write but we don’t have to write it alone!